America’s marriage culture may be changing, but two statistics look about the same as they did 30 years ago:
• By the time women reach age 40, about eight in 10 will have married for the first time, just as they did in the 1980s.
• And 20 years later, only 52 percent of these wives will still be married - also about the same as before.
The report, which uses data from the National Survey of Family Growth 2006-2010 and previous years, confirms higher ages for marriage (28.3 years for men and 25.8 years for women), and premarital cohabiting as a normal rite of passage.
The duration of marriages is also tracked up to the 20th year, as well as characteristics associated with “survivability.”
For instance, although relatively few - one in five - first marriages fail within five years, they are likely to be associated with characteristics like marrying as a teen, coming from a single-parent home and not having a child together after marriage.
Conversely, marriages that reached their 20-year anniversary were associated with having a college degree, having a religious life, not cohabiting before marriage and not having previous marriages or children from previous relationships, the report said.
Despite the generally stable divorce rate, there’s been an important underlying shift in it, said William J. Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project, which is examining ways distressed couples can reconcile.
“If we go back to the 1970s, the rates of divorce for high-school graduates and college graduates were quite similar,” said Mr. Doherty.
Now “divorce rates have gone up for people with moderate educations and gone down for those with college educations,” he said, noting that the new data show that of married women with a high-school education, 59 percent divorced before their 20th anniversary. In contrast, 78 percent of married women with bachelor’s degrees reached their 20th anniversary.
That suggests that college graduates “have figured out how to ‘do marriage’ in this century,” said Mr. Doherty. It’s possible, he added, that since these couples are becoming “marriage savvy,” their wisdom and skills could be shared with other populations.
That may be too rosy a view for some marriage-watchers.
A major reason why divorce rates are stubbornly high “is because Americans have largely embraced the individualistic ethos ushered in by the 1970s, and are often unwilling or unable to navigate marital difficulties that creep up after several years of married life,” said sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, who also directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
“The only good news is that federal data also suggest that married couples with children have seen their divorce rates come down since the 1980s,” Mr. Wilcox said.View Entire Story
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Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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